REVIEW: The Commune / Kollektivet

Nordic imports have been the ‘in thing’ for a while. Gosh, there was even a fairly snide anti-Danish design article in The Times supplement last weekend – when an informed backlash with confident reference to ‘hygge’ appears in the national press then a culture has definitely made an impact. I, for one, remain a Scandi-phile, in particular a lover of all things Danish. I may be one of the only people who hasn’t given up on my Duolingo account and I recently progressed to a textbook. It’s a passion, what can I say.

Anyway, as you may expect I spend a lot of time watching Danish drama, and so I had to check out the latest Danish import ‘The Commune’, or to give it the Danish title ‘Kollektivet’. Set in the liberal 70s and taking its theme as the craze of commune-living with all the freedom all that involves, it could be summarised that the film depicts the breakdown of a family as it becomes a victim of liberal thinking. However, it could also be argued that it demonstrates the power of love beyond traditional family ties, and how love can extend beyond the social construct of the family unit. It’s both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and refuses to tie things up cleanly, reflecting the unavoidable chaos of reality whichever way you choose to live it.

For anyone at all acquainted with Danish film or drama there are some familiar faces, and the stand out performance comes from Trine Dyrholm, star of ‘Love is all you need’ (or in Danish ‘Den skaldede frisor’ – ‘The Bald Hairdresser’ – I love the Danes) with Pierce Brosnan (well worth a watch). In ‘The Commune’ she plays the newsreader-wife who encourages her University lecturer husband to create the commune. In an attempt to sex up the mundane confine of her comfortably happy marriage, she loses her husband both emotionally, and then physically, as he finds that lost comfort in the arms of a student, a stereotype exacerbated by the fact she is doppeldanger version 2.0 of his wife. Dyrholm’s descent from an attempted acceptance of the affair to full-on vodka-soaked emotional breakdown culminates in an excrutiating scene where she loses not only her husband but her livelihood. Her realisation that she has lost her previously happy family underlines the reality of ‘liberal living’ and the fact that you can’t have it all. If you ask for excitement, your husband might take you literally.

Admittedly there are some moments in the film which don’t quite work. It is not clear whether Dyrholm’s Anna had expected living in a commune to involve a little infidelity or not. At the beginning she merely repeatedly says that she has always wanted to live with their friend Ole (wink wink), and in one scene grabs his bum. Therefore it is hard to comprehend the true extent of her husband’s betrayal. Another issue (although it could be just me) is how their 14 year old daughter’s first relationship moves with alarming speed to the bedroom (one minute she follows the stranger home, next minute she is in a darkened room being told to undress) and had me convinced that the film was heading for a teen pregnancy. However, despite my little anxieties, overall this is a well-delivered, emotional, yet fairly upbeat ride*.

*Pun intended – this is the 70s after all

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